Northern Desert Photography

Living on the Edge of the Sagebrush Ocean

Stallions

This time of year the foals are the show stealers for sure but the stallions always command my attention. The herd stallions have a presence that is captivating and for photographers trying to get close they must be watched carefully. You could put yourself in real danger if you did not pay close attention to what they are doing, their body language and their mood. Sometimes they graze quietly not at all alarmed as you come close, at other times they are in a definitely protective mode and then you had better watch out if they are showing you that they consider you a threat.
Each band of horses has a social structure that includes a stallion, a lead mare, a few mares with foals and half-grown offspring of varying ages that have not left the band yet or been driven off by the Stallion. These bands come fairly close to one another at times and that is when the fighting between the stallions breaks out. They seem to have a tolerance level of about 50 to a hundred yards. Within that zone one of the stallions will feel threatened and charges out to challenge. Sometimes nothing happens, the other stallion will round-up his band and move off, at other times a battle will ensue with roaring and squealing, biting and kicking. These types of photos are exciting to capture but the photographer has to be extremely careful to stay well out-of-the-way. I have been watching some of these stallions for years now and while they are familiar to me I don’t take it for granted that they are truly a wild animal.
Horses seem to me to be special in the animal world in that they know they are beautiful. If ordinary horses know that they are beautiful, then wild stallions know this tenfold. I have included some photos here of herd stallions and one young appaloosa stallion that I saw for the first time a couple of days ago hanging out with his bachelor friend. He is the first appaloosa I have seen in the wild bands. I hope to see him gather some mares in the next few years and pass on his genes. He certainly knows he is beautiful and he is.

More Babies

The hills have greened up and the horses look good. Most of the horses appear to be well fed and sleek. Each day more and more little ones show up shyly peeking out from behind their protective mothers.

I don’t know where the horses go in the winter, but in the places I am used to seeing them there are a few small bands around during the winter months. This time of year the rest of the horses reappear. Now there are hundreds and everywhere you look they are dotting the landscape.

I have been fortunate to get quite a few photos of new foals. Is there anything cuter?

It’s That Time of Year

It is the time of year that spring surprises pop up all around us. Trees and flowers blooming, grass greening and leaves starting faintly to show in the cottonwoods along the river. It is also the time of year that the wild horse bands start showing up with new members. I took my camera out yesterday and was fortunate to find several mares who were amiable to having a family photo taken.

The big seal brown horse with the large white star is a stallion that I have been photographing for 5 years. His band of mares changes membership from time to time but he has always had the same red roan mare alongside him. He passes that big white star on to many of his offspring. I have included a couple of photos of his foals with the distinctive white mark on their face.

The stallions are constantly fighting over mares and stealing them when they can. I caught a couple having a bit of a scuffle on their way to water. I liked the way the dust in the evening light softened the look of the battle.

Random Wildlife Photos From My Last Trip to Klamath

A couple of weeks ago I traveled back to Klamath to photograph snow geese. With some luck and good timing I was able to accomplish that goal. As I have discovered on both trips to the Lower Klamath Wildlife Refuge, it is an amazing place for wildlife in general. I wanted to share a few more photos from the trip.

Over my lifetime, I have spent a lot of time outdoors hunting, fishing, horseback riding, and hiking and now with my hobby of photography. I have seen most of the animals that live in the western United States at one time or another. I have even been lucky enough to see a mountain lion. I had never seen a bobcat in the wild before this trip. Imagine my surprise when I saw two in one day. I was driving slowly down one of the dirt roads of the refuge around lunch time when a bobcat ran right in front of my car. It was too fast for me to get my camera out. I just had to be grateful I had caught a fleeting glimpse. Later as the sun was setting I saw what at first I thought was a stump rising out of the dead grass in an old burn area. As I got closer I could see that it was a cat. It was sitting on a table shaped rock. It did not seem too concerned about me and let me take quite a few pics of it. Unfortunately the grass partially covered its face in many of the photos but I was able to get one good pose.

I always see Mule Deer on the refuge. The bucks have dropped their horns so I am including a photo of a nice one I saw in January as well as several deer I saw on this most recent trip and more Bald Eagles. The Eagles were still around in large numbers. I have included more snow geese in flight and some Greater White Fronted Geese that are mostly brown colored in this collection.

I have had such wonderful experiences visiting the Klamath Basin. I plan on trying to visit at least twice a year from now on as long as I am able. If you can make the trip yourself you won’t be disappointed.

Sandhill Cranes

Last week when I drove home from the Klamath Basin I took a slight detour to visit the Modoc Wildlife Refuge just outside Alturas California. I was hoping that I would see Sandhill Cranes and I was not disappointed. There were quite a few feeding on farm fields surrounding the Refuge along with Snow and Canada geese. I hope to go back next week and see and photograph some of the cranes courtship displays.

Snow Geese

I went back to the Klamath Basin to see if I could get photos of the migrating Snow geese and got very lucky. I happened to be at the right place at the right time in several instances and was able to shoot very large flocks of Snow Geese lifting off the water and off farm fields. It was an amazing sight and the sound was deafening. Sometimes I just had to lower the camera to take it all in. Beautiful sight and sound as these birds filled the sky.

Carson Valley

This past weekend I attended a well known event in the Carson Valley called Eagles and Agriculture. Every year at this time they celebrate the return of Bald Eagles to the valley and have built a rather successful attraction for wildlife and bird enthusiasts to enjoy each February. At this time of year the cows are calving and the Eagles are attracted to dine on the placentas and some of the calves that inevitably die or are stillborn.

I have never attended anything like this before. It was well organized and I met great people, had good food and overall enjoyed myself. It was not however, a great opportunity to take wildlife photos. The drought we have been having has led to ranchers carrying less cattle on their land; less cattle, less calves, fewer eagles and raptors to see. Also arriving on tour buses with 40 other photographers and birders is not my usual mode of operation. Again, no complaints from me, it was what it was and I made the most of it by taking photos of some of the historical ranches we were allowed to visit and enjoyed meeting people who were interested in wildlife and photography. I probably won’t attend the event again or at least for a few years. I came away with some ideas of places to go on my own to take wildlife photos and an appreciation for the history and beauty of the Carson Valley.

165,000 Acres All to Myself – Stillwater Wildlife Refuge

I had an wonderful time today out at the Stillwater Wildlife Refuge about 70 miles east of Reno. I had only visited this area once years ago before I became interested in photography. I usually don’t think about the Stillwater as a good place to photograph as hunting is allowed 7 days a week during the waterfowl season and it is too hot in the summer. I just needed to get my timing right is all. Today I drove all over this huge refuge and did not see another soul the whole day!
There are several large ponds and lakes dotting the sagebrush plain. The water is the last remnants of ancient Lake Lahontan that covered most of northern Nevada 15,000 years ago. Tundra swans were present as well as ducks and geese. Many bodies of water were dried up, further evidence of our ongoing drought. We started off so promising this fall with good snowfall but January and February have been pretty dry. It is going to be another tough year for wildlife here this summer.
I was disappointed that I did not see any deer, antelope or coyotes but there were plenty of birds. I got the best photos I have ever been able to take of a Meadowlark. They are so skittish but this one stayed put for quite awhile as he sang his spring song. My earliest memory is hearing a Meadowlark like this one when I could not have been more than two out behind our house in the sagebrush. It always takes me back to hear one.
I saw lots of Tundra Swans and sparrows and some herons that were flew off before I could get any pictures. The birds were all very wary no doubt as a result of the recently closed hunting season. I was hoping to see snow geese but they all seemed to have moved on.
I will definitely make more trips out to Stillwater. It was an amazing experience to have it all to myself. I don’t know if I could possibly get that lucky again but I think with 165,000 acres if one or two other people showed up it would not be too crowded would it? 😉

More from the Klamath Basin

More from the Klamath Basin
I want to show more photos of this wonderful place. I took a lot of photos and have been busy editing and culling them. It always takes me a long time to get through everything from an extended shoot. I have some landscape photos here so that people can see what the refuge looks like. I am not a landscape photographer though I attempt it now and then. This trip I was definitely focused on trying to get wildlife shots and just took a few snaps of the surrounding landscapes.
The Refuge itself is a beautiful place. That mountain looming over the horizon is Mount Shasta and it is visible from most points. The white birds are Tundra swans and they were present in the thousands. I was not able to get any good close ups of those. I will try to on a repeat trip I have planned. Apparently I was a bit early for the truly amazing numbers of swans and snow geese that will be stopping over at Klamath in a few weeks on their northward migration. The noise was deafening at times just from these swans. An eagle would fly over them and they would erupt in loud calls and confusion. I think the eagles just did it for fun now and then. They acted pretty casual about all the geese and swans knowing that if they wanted one they could take one anytime they felt like it.
Of course there are other species of birds and animals on the Refuge and I was fortunate to get photos of a Great Horned Owl and this immature bald eagle. I was able to get the closest I have ever been to Great Blue Herons and saw plenty of herons as I drove around. I am looking forward to seeing hundreds of Sand hill cranes when I go back in a few weeks. Took this bad photo of the eagles roosting high up in cottonwoods just to show the numbers you could see of them in one place.
I reserved a blind for a couple of mornings and sat in it for hours in 20 degree weather hoping an eagle or two would land in that tree that I photographed. I was told that sometimes up to 30 will roost in the tree for hours. You have to be in the blind before it gets light and then you must stay in it until you are ready to leave. It was a cold and uncomfortable experience. The blind was too small for me to stand up in and I felt claustrophobic in it in addition to freezing. No eagles showed up and I felt like I wasted valuable time. I am far too hyperactive to try it again anytime soon. I am slowly overcoming my fear of the dark I think; at least in very wild places…

Red-tailed Hawks

Red-tailed Hawks seem to be the Rodney Dangerfields of the Raptors. While visiting the Klamath Basin Refuge last week, I saw and had the opportunity to take lots of photos of them but I seemed to be the only person interested in doing that. Several times people would stop to ask me what I was looking at or photographing and as soon as they saw or I told them it was a Red-tailed hawk they would make a face and drive off or say something like, “Oh those are so common, we are looking for eagles, or roughies.” Red-tails are common but no less beautiful than the rarer birds. I think people passed up some good opportunities to watch and photograph this wonderful species. They are incredible hunters and the fact that there are a lot of them does not make them any less interesting in my opinion.

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